I was able to get away this summer and spent some time with a daughter and two of my grandchildren and then went on a cruise through the Saint Lawrence River. While I observed a lot of nature and some beautiful towns, I found observing the people even more interesting.
Now I am not just talking about Canadians. I have had the opportunity to visit Canada a number of times and I find the people there to be a delightful mix of innocence and sophistication. While this is not scientific study and merely based on my own observations, they seem not to be burdened by much of the confusion that we find in our own country and they view us with a mix of interest and a sense we might be a bit full of ourselves. They often find our politics to be bewildering. (I find myself increasingly in that same space.) They think our guns laws and our fear of government healthcare to be a little strange and self-destructive.
I once asked a Canadian friend what it was like to live just above the continental United States. He laughed and said it was a lot like living over a biker bar! It was very interesting but a little scary. So while I was observing our Canadian friends, I am sure they were observing me even more closely.
But my little human expedition didn’t start with Canada. It started with a short visit with a couple of my grandchildren in Maine. One is a full-fledged teenager and the other is just on the cusp. To say I observed them may be an overstatement. It was hard to find them most of the time. They were always “on their devices.” Like most young people of their age, they have been captivated by the technology that surrounds us. One of my other grandchildren visited this summer with a friend. They were actually texting each other while being in the same room!
Then, as we sallied forth on our cruise, I found that it wasn’t just the teenagers who are addicted. Truth be told, most of us are texting, tweeting, Facebooking, checking the news, weather or stock reports, Googling or just playing mindless games on our phones, iPad, or what have you. We are more fascinated with a small screen than the big world around us.
Then there is the ubiquitous “selfie” stick. Every other person I saw this summer seemed to have their phone camera on a long stick so they can take endless pictures of themselves blocking the lovely backgrounds behind them. With all due respect, most of the pictures would be better if they just took a picture of the scenery and left themselves out of it. I realize that is blasphemy in today’s world but it is really nice to have pictures of what you saw without forcing anyone looking at them to our smiling faces.
We even have celebrities who are making a fortune from taking selfies of themselves and sharing them with the world. (Yes, I am talking about you, Kardashians!) We seem to have developed a culture that focuses on the “I” and not the eye. We have become a tribe of narcissists and that can’t be good.
This was also the summer of Pokemon Go, which is the new rage. It involves following maps on your device in the real world to “find” little creatures or emoji’s or whatever. What it really looks like to one who isn’t playing is zombies wandering through the streets, eyes fixed on their phone, ignoring all external stimuli while they pursue something that doesn’t really exist. It was like witnessing the Zombie Apocalypse. This might be the greatest metaphor for our time I have ever seen.
What are we all looking for anyway? There is a real world out there that should be enjoyed and appreciated. How can we do that if we are fixated on tiny technological devices? I realize I am coming off as a Luddite here, but even though I am as guilty as the next at being attached to my phone, I can’t think that in the long run that is a good thing. This is particularly true if it comes at the expense of human interaction.
I know, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg would argue that technology has connected us in new and exciting ways. And there is some truth to that. But it has also divided us in some pretty profound ways as well. When we sacrifice connecting with someone on a human scale, we have lost something as a society. When we spend more time thinking about how to put ourselves in the picture rather than appreciating the greater world, we are sacrificing a bit of our soul. When we spend all our time pursuing things that aren’t real we are taking a journey to nowhere.
We as educators need to take on the struggle that will help our children use all these new technological advances to enrich their lives and souls. Many years ago there was a children’s book which described a world where you could have all the wonderful toys you wanted. But when you got them, you had to live with them forever. That, in many ways, is the world we have given our children. We have to find ways to help them live with their toys without the toys taking over and destroying the quality of their lives.